A three-minute TVC news clip trending on WhatsApp features a notorious 30-year-old gun runner from Niger Republic, Shehu Ali Kachala, who was recently paraded by the Zamfara State Police Command. Caught in the process of supplying arms to criminal hideouts, the suspect claimed he was importing the weapons from Niger Republic through the assistance of unnamed military personnel. He also said he had sold 450 rifles and 8000 rounds of live ammunition to criminal gangs in Zamfara, Kaduna, and Niger States. In what has become a familiar pattern, there is no word from military authorities regarding this weighty allegation.
On 5th March this year, the Zamfara State Government announced that a Nigerian soldier and his girlfriend were caught supplying ammunition and military uniforms to armed bandits. “While the state government awaits the action the military will take on this matter and make an official statement, the development has further proved the position of Governor Bello Mattawalle that unless the fight against banditry is cleansed of bad eggs and saboteurs, we may not record the desired success,” Alhaji Bashir Maru, deputy chief of staff to the governor told the media. He then added: “Let me use this medium to salute the courage and patriotism of the individual who came forward with information that led to the arrest of these traitors. Our gratitude knows no bounds.”
Until today, we do not know the identities of these ‘traitors’ in military uniform. This is also typical. Despite a presidential intervention, nobody in the military has been held accountable for executing four senior police officers while ferrying a kidnap suspect from Taraba State in August 2019. At the time, the police released video clips of the tragic incident. Following the subsequent arrest of the alleged kingpin, the police also released the video of his confessional statement which corroborated their allegations that the soldiers who killed their men were working in concert with kidnappers. “I am Hamisu Bala also known as Wadume. The police came to Ibi and arrested me. After arresting me, they were taking me to Abuja when soldiers went after them, opened fire and some policemen were killed. From there, the soldiers took me to their headquarters and cut off the handcuffs on my hands and I ran away,” the suspect said in the video.
A joint presidential investigative panel headed by Rear Admiral T.I Olaiya was established with representatives from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), State Security Service (SSS) as well as the army, navy, and police. Like we say in Nigeria these days, that panel has ‘gone into audio’.
With allegations of complicity by rogue military personnel in the prevalence of crimes in the country, there could not have been a worse moment for the army to lose its chief and top Generals. Late Major General Ibrahim Attahiru was barely four months in office when he died last Friday in a plane crash. While I commiserate with families of all the deceased officers, the president has a responsibility to appoint a new Chief of Army Staff without delay. The more this matter drags, the more the atmosphere becomes toxic, especially now that ethnic and religious propositions are entering the equation. Such divisive campaigns are dangerous for the military. Besides, the president should understand that the enemy doesn’t give you room to finish mourning. He attacks you when your command structure is fractured! Even the insurgents, if we are to believe what we read these days, have swiftly put in place a new chain of command to replace Abubakar Shekau who may finally have met his maker.
While we remain a nation perpetually in mourning, the military must be rid of those among them who collude with criminals. In September 2016, Major General Lucky Irabor, current Chief of Defence Staff, (and then Nigerian Army theater commander in Maiduguri) told journalists that some soldiers were selling arms and ammunition to Boko Haram in what he described as “a betrayal of the Nigerian people”, even though he gave no details. We cannot win the fight against insurgency, banditry, and kidnappings if the saboteurs within are not fished out and punished. I made this point on 25th March last year in my column titled, ‘Insecurity and the Enemies Within’.
As I highlighted in that intervention, the problem persists because the authorities are not prepared to deal with it. I raised the report of the Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an international conflict research group, which had then just made shocking disclosures that some of the weapons with which herdsmen and farmers fought were traced to “stockpiles of Nigerian defence and security forces”. Of the 148 different weapons discovered and analysed, the report revealed that “Nigerian-manufactured small-calibre ammunition—including cartridges manufactured as recently as 2014—is the second-most prevalent type of ammunition in this data set. Four of the weapons in the data set were previously in service with Nigerian national defence and security forces. CAR has established this through formal tracing and the analysis of secondary marks applied to the weapons, which identify their users.”
The federal government did not even bother to respond to the report. Meanwhile, in November 2017, a Director in the State Security Service (SSS), Mr Godwin N. Eteng, also made chilling revelations before a House of Representatives Joint Committee investigating the influx of small arms and light weapons into the country. “We had a situation where in one of the armouries belonging to one of the armed forces, many pistols just got missing with quantities of ammunition and all the pistols are new. In the armoury, no place was broken into, but the weapons were missing,” Eteng said. In June 2019, the police command in Kaduna State arrested a Lance Corporal serving in one of the military units in Jaji Military Cantonment, for selling arms to kidnappers. Nobody has been held accountable for these incidents.
As I have also pointed out in the past, that this sordid situation has gone on for so long is an indication that we learnt no lesson from Niger Delta where militancy was sustained due to arms and ammunitions procured from official armouries. In my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death’, I detailed a report of the Board of Inquiry convened by then Chief of Army Staff, the late Lt. Gen Luka Yusuf, which investigated huge theft of arms at 1 Base Ordnance Depot (1BODK), in Kaduna. The investigation was itself spawned by allegation that an arms syndicate involving soldiers and officers of the Nigerian Army, had been breaking into the arms sheds in 1BODK, the Ordnance Sub Depot (OSD) in Jaji and the Ordnance Field Park (OFP) in Calabar to steal weapons. Some of the stolen arms and ammunition included among others, GPMGs, Sterling SMG, Bren LNG, AK 47 rifles, grenades, and rocket launchers, as well as several fragmentation jackets.
Breaking that syndicate helped in no small measure to weaken the capacity of militants before the amnesty deal. About a dozen military officers were court-martialled and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The report presented to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua concluded that “some of the soldiers involved in the theft of weapons actually escorted the stolen arms in uniform to their destination in Niger Delta.”
Until we can fish out and punish those colluding with criminals within the armed forces and security agencies, it will be practically impossible to win the war against insurgency. It will also be difficult to rid our country of kidnappers, bandits, and sundry other criminal cartels.
However, the immediate issue is the appointment of the Chief of Army Staff. It is the prerogative of President Buhari as the Commander-in-Chief to appoint whoever he likes. But it is in his interest and that of the nation that the selection process be meritocratic. The right mix of intellect, operational experience, particularly in the ongoing war against terror in the Northeast, and capacity to motivate (at a period troop morale is very low) must override political, religious, and geo-ethnic arithmetic. The president must also act with dispatch. In the circumstance Nigeria has found itself today, any further delay in making the appointment is dangerous. Very dangerous!
Message from Pope Francis
Last Thursday, Pope Francis met young adults, faculty, and guests to announce the launch of Scholas Occurrentes in various locations across four countries: Washington DC in the United States of America; Valencia in Spain; Chaco in Argentina; and Sydney in Australia. Established by the Pope in 2013, Scholas Occurrentes is an international network cutting across more than a hundred countries, with the purpose “to create a culture of encounter and bring young people together in an education that generates meaning.”
While greeting a line of young people who, according to the President of Scholas, “worked hard during the pandemic”, the Pope asked: “What does it mean to work hard?” One of the boys responded: “We couldn’t go out physically, but we went out with our minds.” To Pope Francis, the boy got it right. “That’s the key! To go out… because if you remain in yourself, you become corrupted. Like water that when it runs is pure, and when it stops becomes stagnant.” Questions were posed to the Pope too. “How can young people change politics?”, asked a boy. Pope Francis responded: “When they talk to me about how politics is in the world, I say: look where there are wars; there is the defeat of politics. A form of politics that is not able to dialogue to avoid a war is defeated; it’s over.”
I found that message important for Nigeria, especially at this very delicate intersection but the person who bears ultimate responsibility is President Buhari. Democracy cannot function in the absence of an effective formal authority. It helps when leaders have moral authority as well. The former can be bestowed by the electorate; the latter can only be earned. While there is no easy route through the crisis we currently face as a nation, citizens usually want their leader to engage. That Nigerians do not see such prospect now is the problem, especially as we mark the 22nd anniversary of the current dispensation.
I hope our political leaders at all levels and other critical stakeholders can internalize the message of Pope Francis and begin to dialogue on the way forward for our country.